For many years I have dreamed of going to Israel. I’ve been studying God’s Word for over 25 years and if you study God’s Word then you study Israel because Israel is the epicenter of biblical studies. I’ve studied God’s Word so much during the past 25 years that, before going to Israel the past two weeks, I honestly felt like I had been there already. When I stepped off the plane and began my 17 day journey through Israel I realized that “feeling” like I’d been there couldn’t even compare to what I was about to experience. The best comparison I can offer you is to encourage you to think for a moment like you are 12 years old again. Do you remember the commercials you use to watch about Disney World? The rides? The smiles? The fun? The excitement? Those commercials caused me to salivate when I was a kid, didn’t they do the same thing to you? But, any of you who have ever had the opportunity to go to Disney World soon found out that the commercials didn’t even come close to portraying what you were about to experience when you drove through the gates! That is the way I felt when we drove up to the Sea of Galilee from the airport! Actually it was more than the excitement of Disney World for me because Disney World was just plain fun, but going to the Holy Land meant that I would be walking where Jesus walked.
Every day that I was in Israel was a day that left me full. We visited so many sites, I took so many pictures and notes, but at the end of each day I was so full because of the Scripture I read and the experiences I had. When I got home Connie asked, “What was the highlight of the trip for you?” I said, “Each day.” Each day brought about a new experience, a different experience than the day before. Sitting on Mount Carmel I could see Elijah facing off with the 450 false prophets of Baal. Sitting on the Mount of Beatitudes and overlooking the Sea of Galilee I could see the people and hear Jesus preaching the greatest sermon the world has ever heard. Sitting on the steps leading up to Caiaphas’ house I could see Jesus being dragged through the Kidron Valley on His way to the cross. Sitting on the Mount of Olives, across from Caiaphas’ house and the Old City, I could hear Jesus praying, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42 NIV) Each new day was another opportunity to sit and hear the Scripture like I was hearing it for the very first time.
I’ve thought about this sermon for several days, actually I thought about it every day that I was in Israel. How was I going to be able to share this experience with all of you? What could I possibly say to give you the best picture of what I saw and experienced while I was in Israel? After thinking and praying I felt like the Lord gave something totally different than a tour of Israel to share with you this morning. The message the Lord has laid upon my heart has nothing to do with the Old City of Jerusalem or the Garden Tomb or the Via Dolorosa, “The way of suffering,” that Jesus walked on His way to His crucifixion. I want to take you to the site of the Northern tribe of Dan and the time of the divided Kingdom of Israel. Dan is located about 100 miles north of Jerusalem and it is the place of one of the saddest stories you will read about in God’s Word. Let me set the stage for you. It is a sad story, but a great lesson for you and for me.
Saul was the first king of Israel, but Saul was a failure as king because he didn’t trust God. He had everything going for him if you measure him the way the world measures potential. 1 Samuel 9:2 tells us that Saul was an impressive young man. He was a head taller than the other young men, but when Saul got in a pinch he resorted to his own ingenuity and know-how instead of trusting in God. Saul’s reign lasted about 20 years.
The greatest king in the history of Israel followed Saul, his name was David. I’ve always heard that Israelites still feel that David was their greatest king even though we are now 3000 years removed from the time of his reign. I thought I would give it the test while I was in Israel. I took a cab one day while we were in Eilat, located down on the coast of the Red Sea, in far south Israel. While I was riding in the cab I started talking to the cab driver about his country. I asked him, “Who was your greatest King?” He said, “David.” Case closed. God used David to bring the tribes of Israel together as a United Kingdom and he reigned from about 1005-965 B.C.
Following David as king was his son, Solomon. Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, but he had a wayward heart and he followed his desire for women more than he followed the Lord. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines and 1 Kings 11:4 tells us,
4 As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been. (1 Kings 11:4 NIV)
God was not pleased with Solomon. In 1 Kings 11 we read that God sent a prophet to a man named Jeroboam, one of Solomon’s servants, and told him that He was going to tear the kingdom from Solomon’s hands. For the sake of David, God wouldn’t do this while Solomon was king, but He would wait until Solomon’s son, Rehoboam was king. Take a look at 1 Kings 11:28-36 with me.
28 Now Jeroboam was a man of standing, and when Solomon saw how well the young man did his work, he put him in charge of the whole labor force of the house of Joseph. 29 About that time Jeroboam was going out of Jerusalem, and Ahijah the prophet of Shiloh met him on the way, wearing a new cloak. The two of them were alone out in the country, 30 and Ahijah took hold of the new cloak he was wearing and tore it into twelve pieces. 31Then he said to Jeroboam, “Take ten pieces for yourself, for this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘See, I am going to tear the kingdom out of Solomon’s hand and give you ten tribes. 32 But for the sake of my servant David and the city of Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, he will have one tribe. 33I will do this because they have forsaken me and worshiped Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Molech the god of the Ammonites, and have not walked in my ways, nor done what is right in my eyes, nor kept my statutes and laws as David, Solomon’s father, did. 34“‘But I will not take the whole kingdom out of Solomon’s hand; I have made him ruler all the days of his life for the sake of David my servant, whom I chose and who observed my commands and statutes. 35I will take the kingdom from his son’s hands and give you ten tribes. 36 I will give one tribe to his son so that David my servant may always have a lamp before me in Jerusalem, the city where I chose to put my Name. (1 Kings 11:28-36 NIV)
Jeroboam didn’t ask to be king, he was just doing his job. There is a great lesson in that for us for my friends. We live in a day when we are taught that you’ve got to stop at nothing to get what you really want in life. If you want that promotion at work then stop at nothing. If you want to get rich then stop at nothing. If you want that trophy wife or husband then stop at nothing. If you want your kids to be the most popular kids at school then stop at nothing. Stop at nothing. If that is the philosophy you’ve subscribed to in life then I’ve got some advice for you…you better stop right now. You are heading to destruction and you may not just destroy your own life or reputation, you may destroy those around you as well. Instead of stopping at nothing you and I need to be about our business, or should I say, we had better be about God’s business and let Him bring His best to you.
Ahijah the prophet told Jeroboam that God was going to give him 10 tribes to rule over when the time was right. This wasn’t the only promise God made to Jeroboam. Take a look at 1 Kings 11: 38-39 with me.
37However, as for you, I will take you, and you will rule over all that your heart desires; you will be king over Israel. 38 If you do whatever I command you and walk in my ways and do what is right in my eyes by keeping my statutes and commands, as David my servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. 39I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever.’” (1 Kings 11:37-39 NIV)
God made Jeroboam the same promise He made to David, Israel’s greatest king! How does that work? Jeroboam wasn’t king material. He hadn’t graduated from the Jewish equivalent of West Point. He wasn’t a “blue blood.” No, he wasn’t any of those things, but He was chosen by God! All Jeroboam had to do, if I am reading Scripture right, is do whatever God commanded him to do, walk in God’s ways, and do what was right in God’s eyes. If Jeroboam would make this his one aim in life then today, when you and I go to Israel and we ask their cab drivers, “Who was your greatest king?” We would hear, “David and Jeroboam.” That’s not what I was told last week and there isn’t a cab driver in all of Israel that would put Jeroboam on the same level as David. What went wrong? I’m so glad you asked.
Evidently Solomon got wind of what was going to take place and he was jealous and angry. Solomon tried to have Jeroboam killed, but Jeroboam fled to Egypt until Solomon died.
After Solomon’s death the people of Israel met with his son, Rehoboam, at Shechem, which is about 25 miles north of Jerusalem. Solomon had made life hard on his citizens. They had to pay high taxes and work like a dog to complete all of Solomon’s building projects. After his death, the leaders met with his son, Rehoboam and said,
4“Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” (1 Kings 12:4 NIV)
Rehoboam didn’t listen. He went to the elders of Israel, who told him to lighten the load, but Rehoboam also went to his homeboys and their advice was very different. They told him to tell the people,
10 The young men who had grown up with him replied, “Tell these people who have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter’– tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. 11 My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.’” (1 Kings 12:10-11 NIV)
This is the answer Rehoboam took back to the people. When Jeroboam and the people heard the news they revolted and the Kingdom was divided. The people who lived in the north made Jeroboam their king. Rehoboam, after the dust had settled, had only one tribe that remained loyal to him, the tribe of Judah. Jeroboam had ten tribes that came to him and he set up the town of Shechem as his headquarters and he lived there.
All was going well for Jeroboam until he began to realize that one of the prescribed times of worship was approaching and his people would be required to go to Jerusalem to worship at the Temple. Three times each year the Jews were required to go to Jerusalem to worship. They were not allowed to set up places of worship wherever they wanted because those places always became corrupt and took on the look of the false religions of the Canaanites.
The problem, in Jeroboam’s mind, was that Jerusalem was located in the southern kingdom of Judah, not in the northern kingdom of Israel. The wheels in his head began to turn and create scenarios that troubled him. Jeroboam thought to himself, “If they go back to Jerusalem to worship then they might decide that life is better there and never come home again. I will lose my kingdom!” So what did Jeroboam do? Did he consult with God? Pray about it? Not on your life! He did what every one of us would have done—he asked his friends what he should do. He made the same mistake that Rehoboam made when he was approached by the people about their hard labor and high taxes. Take a look at 1 Kings 12:26-33 with me.
26Jeroboam thought to himself, “The kingdom will now likely revert to the house of David. 27 If these people go up to offer sacrifices at the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem, they will again give their allegiance to their lord, Rehoboam king of Judah. They will kill me and return to King Rehoboam.” 28 After seeking advice, the king made two golden calves. He said to the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” 29 One he set up in Bethel, and the other in Dan. 30 And this thing became a sin; the people went even as far as Dan to worship the one there. 31 Jeroboam built shrines on high places and appointed priests from all sorts of people, even though they were not Levites. 32 He instituted a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, like the festival held in Judah, and offered sacrifices on the altar. This he did in Bethel, sacrificing to the calves he had made. And at Bethel he also installed priests at the high places he had made. 33 On the fifteenth day of the eighth month, a month of his own choosing, he offered sacrifices on the altar he had built at Bethel. So he instituted the festival for the Israelites and went up to the altar to make offerings. (1 Kings 12:26-33 NIV)
Jeroboam, after consulting with his advisers, set up two alternatives to the Temple in Jerusalem—he built worship centers in Dan and the other in Bethel. He not only disobeyed God by setting up these worship centers, but he made two golden calves to place in Dan and Bethel and told the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” What in the world was he thinking? Had he skipped Sunday school on the Sunday when his class covered Exodus 32? Maybe some of you missed class on the Sunday we covered that text so why don’t we go over it again. Read along with me.
1When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.” 2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32:1-4 NIV)
Jeroboam was told that all he had to do was trust God and he would have a kingdom like he couldn’t even imagine. Jeroboam reasoned, he rationalized, he came up with a plan, and he then justified his disobedience. How much like Jeroboam are you and I? Jeroboam was facing a problem. It was a real problem wasn’t it? Of course it was. There was the real potential for folks to stay in Jerusalem instead of returning back to the north, to Jeroboam’s kingdom. Still, he was told by God—“Trust Me!”
How many of us are facing dilemmas, decisions that must be made, problems that perplex us? Are they real? You bet they are real. Still we are called to trust God! Don’t rationalize! Don’t come up with a plan of your own devices, your own ingenuity! Don’t figure a way out and then put the stamp of God on it as if you had received the plan from a hand coming out of the Holy of Holies! Trust God! Trust God! Let me say it again, trust God!
I was sitting in Dan, at the site of Jeroboam’s altar, when we read the story I’ve been sharing with you this morning. I was sitting at the ruins of Dan, the ruins of Jeroboam’s altar, when I thought to myself, “This is where it all ends. This is the final result of life without God—ruins!”
If you will remember Jeroboam told the people, “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem.” I can hear Jeroboam now, “That’s a long road. It’s 20, 30, or even 50 miles to Jerusalem from where you live. I haven’t built an airport yet so we’re talkiig about taking a big chunk of your life just to go to church. You’ve got work to do and time is short. You’ve got little league games to go to. You’ve got appointments to keep. Your schedule is already full without having to make the long trek to Jerusalem, let me make things easier for you.”
I want you to know that God has pierced my soul with these thoughts during the past two weeks. How often am I too busy for God? Living the Christian life calls for a commitment. Commitments mean that I have to say “No” to some things to keep my commitment. That’s hard sometimes isn’t it? There is too high of a price to be paid. I’m a busy guy. Signing up for a Bible study takes too much time so let me get me a devotional that I can do on my own. Going to worship on Sunday morning means that I don’t get a full weekend to do what I want. That’s just not right! “It’s too much for you to go up to Britton Christian Church so we’ll figure out something a little less demanding.”
The story of Jeroboam should send a cold chill up our spine. How many of us are like Jeroboam? God has promised us that He would never leave us or forsake us. He has promised to make a way there seems to be no way. He has proven Himself faithful in the past and He wants to prove Himself faithful again. Why do we turn our eyes to lesser things? Why would we forfeit the promises of God? We think we know better. We think we have a better plan. We think we can figure it out. We are wrong and our lives are in ruins because we have turned away from seeking the Lord with our best, our first, our last, and everything in between!
To add to the ruins of Jeroboam’s reign as king, every king of the northern kingdom followed in His steps. Let me give you a sample. In 1 Kings 15:25 we read,
25 Nadab son of Jeroboam became king of Israel in the second year of Asa king of Judah, and he reigned over Israel two years. 26 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, walking in the ways of his father and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit. (1 Kings 15:25-26 NIV)
Jeroboam’s son followed in his daddies footsteps. He walked in the ways of his father rather than in the ways of God. In 1 Kings 15:33 we read,
33 In the third year of Asa king of Judah, Baasha son of Ahijah became king of all Israel in Tirzah, and he reigned twenty-four years. 34 He did evil in the eyes of the LORD, walking in the ways of Jeroboam and in his sin, which he had caused Israel to commit. (1 Kings 15:33-34 NIV)
Baasha became king over Israel, but instead of keeping his eyes on the Lord, he followed in the footsteps of Jeroboam. In 1 Kings 16:30 we read,
30 Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the LORD than any of those before him. 31He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, but he also married Jezebel daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and began to serve Baal and worship him. 32 He set up an altar for Baal in the temple of Baal that he built in Samaria. (1 Kings 16:30-32 NIV)
Ahab became king and once again, he did evil in the eyes of the Lord. This should cause us to stop and think about where we are going and how we are walking. While I was in Israel I noticed that there are paths everywhere. In the mountains there are paths cutting across the mountainside made by goats, sheep, donkeys, and camels throughout thousands of years. In the city there are footpaths that have been carved in the land by thousands upon thousands of pairs of feet walking somewhere. As you and I live this life we are carving a path. Where does our path lead? Does it lead those who are following us to God? Are the paths we are making leading folks to church, to Bible study, to the “Sweet Hour of Prayer?” Or are our paths leading folks to lesser things? I can’t answer that question for you, but I sure need to stop what I am looking and look at the paths I am creating. I want my path to lead others to the Cross. I want my path to lead others to the throne of God. I want my path to lead others to faith, to giving their all to the Master!
Today, you are being given an opportunity to chart a new course. Which way do you want to go? Will you go the way of Jeroboam and choose the easy route, the course of least resistance? Or will you say this very morning, “I want to change my course and follow Jesus?”
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
May 22, 2006